Craig Fuoco struggled to hold back the flood of tears.
He searched for the words to explain the unexplainable — the unbearable loss of his older sister, Capt. Alison Russo of Huntington — to a city and state still grieving from the FDNY paramedic's shocking and unprovoked killing last week.
"You can do it," whispered Frank Fuoco, Alison and Craig's father, as he placed his hand on his son's shoulders, providing a brief moment of relief to a family forever altered by a seemingly random act of violence.
"She was such a beautiful person," said Frank Fuoco, who described watching the terrifying surveillance video of his daughter being repeatedly stabbed to death. "He killed her and tore a hole in our hearts and of all her colleagues. Only time will fill the void with the memories of service and kindness to help those in need."
But the grieving father noted that his daughter's penchant for kindness — officials said she responded to an estimated 25,000 911 calls during her nearly 25-year career — extended even to the man who extinguished her life.
"That man murdered my daughter," he said, "and she would be the first one to come to his aid if he ever needed help."
Honoring a hero and a mother
Roughly 1,500 friends, family and uniformed service members packed Russo's funeral service Wednesday at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the LIU Post campus in Brookville and thousands more waited outside.
Russo's daughter, Danielle, urged mourners not to dwell on their anger.
"At this moment we are given a chance for you to reminisce on every and any memory you have of my mother," Danielle Fuoco said. "We have been given this opportunity to reflect on all the amazing accomplishments she has achieved. Do not let your thoughts be clouded by this act of sudden trauma. You need to replace it with honoring my mother for the hero that she was. The hero that she is."
For more than two hours Wednesday, colleagues and city officials remembered "Allie" as the "mother hen" of EMS Station 49 in Queens — the woman who spent 24 years delivering comfort to the afflicted, mentorship to the inexperienced and aid to Ground Zero victims in the city's darkest hour.
And, when most would go home to rest, Russo would begin another shift, volunteering for the past three decades at the Huntington Community First Aid Squad.
"She was my mentor and she was my mutual partner," said FDNY Lt. Nancy Leger of Station 49. "She was always there for you. … She was tiny, but she was strong as nails."
EMS Division 2 Deputy Chief Gregg Brady described Russo as a fearless "angel" who risked her life to help others.
"No matter what she faced," Brady said. "she would always put others' lives before hers. That was her calling."
Russo, 61, was stabbed numerous times on Sept. 29 on 20th Avenue in Queens’ Astoria neighborhood — around the corner from Station 49 — as she went to get lunch, according to the NYPD.
Peter Zisopoulos, 34, of nearby 41st Street, is charged with second-degree murder and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
His scheduled arraignment at Queens Criminal Court, which has been put off for several days so he could undergo psychiatric exams, is expected to be held Thursday. No motive for the murder has been disclosed.
Turning pain into purpose
Russo's funeral, which capped a three-day “celebration of life” that began with her wake on Monday and Tuesday, brought law enforcement and first responders from across the East Coast.
A series of emergency vehicles, including a Huntington Community First Aid Squad vehicle, led a procession toward the Tilles Center as uniformed service members stood at attention in the rain. Bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” while Russo's flag-draped coffin was carried into the Tilles Center as paramedics and firefighters saluted.
The coffin rested on the performance center's stage, surrounded by floral wreaths of her paramedic badges, photos of Russo on duty, a phalanx of U.S. flags and her department helmet, which was later presented to her father.
Russo's parents, Catherine and Frank, each in wheelchairs, sat in the front row, next to their granddaughter and other members of the family.
FDNY Acting Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, who posthumously promoted Russo from lieutenant to captain, said the department would turn their pain into purpose.
"Captain Russo represented the best of us," Kavanagh said. "She will serve as our North Star to find a path forward for the city, for the department and for our family in mourning. It may seem impossible now but EMS makes the impossible possible every day on every call by literally giving someone a second chance at life."
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Russo's heroism was not limited to routine calls for service.
On Sept. 11, she responded to Ground Zero, providing help to the injured, Adams said. During the pandemic, when so many others stayed home, Russo would answer countless calls for service, no matter the risk, he said.
"She was a hero then and she is a hero now," Adams said.
Following the funeral, Russo's coffin was carried to an FDNY ambulance while bagpipes played. Three helicopters flew over the procession in tribute, followed by the playing of taps by two trumpeters.
'Third-class citizens' no longer
Many speakers, both before and during the service, noted that EMS workers rarely received the credit — or the protection — they deserved, despite facing unforeseeable risk each time they walked into a patient's home.
"I'd like to see more respect from the city for our members," said Michael Greco, vice president of EMS Union 2507, who said paramedics and field supervisors should have a partner while on duty at all times. "They've been considered third-class citizens for first responders and their jobs are just as dangerous."
Retired EMT Lt. Lisa Roode said Russo would regularly risk her life to save others, while serving as a mentor for paramedics in the city and on Long Island.
"It's one of the most dangerous professions. She was the best of the best. This is heartbreaking," Roode, who supervised Russo while they were stationed together at Battalion 49, said before the funeral. "We recognize the person she was and the fact that EMS is one of the toughest jobs to do."
Lillian Bonsignore, chief of EMS operations for the FDNY, echoed calls to increase safety, noting that Russo was the second female EMS worker to be killed in a violent attack in the past five years.
"Hundreds more of our EMS family members are assaulted by people they're just trying to help," she said. "It is impossible and frankly unacceptable."
In the coming months, colleagues said, Russo had planned to retire to focus on her daughter and her aging parents. She'd taken up golf and was looking forward to spending time fishing and jet skiing.
Those dreams, her brother said, disappeared in an instant on a chilly Thursday afternoon.
"It still feels unreal that we've lost our Alison to this random, senseless act of violence. Alison didn't deserve this. No one does," Craig Fuoco said. "My hope is that our family's tragedy brings attention to the problems facing first responders. … I pray no other family will ever have to go through this. Our family will never be the same."